Cathedral of Saint John the Divine

Amsterdam Avenue at 112th Street

Text and Photographs by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Natural History special issue

Part of City of Stars photo essay.

Photo of an intricate sculture resembling the centerpiece of a fountain, but there's no water running. In the center is a sun with a happy face, below a large angel with sprawling wings.
Peace Fountain in the adjacent yard of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine.

This gnarly sculpture, in a semipublic park next to the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, is part of Peace Fountain. The inscription on a plaque affixed in front of it begins, “Peace fountain celebrates the triumph of good over evil and sets before us the World’s opposing forces—violence and harmony, light and darkness, life and death—which God reconciles in his peace.” A tall order for any sculpture. I only happened to notice that the central figure, the one from which all manner of creatures and crawly things emerge, is a thick-lipped, smiley Sun backed by a sleepy-looking full Moon. Further along in the 225-word description of the sculpture’s symbolism, we get to the Sun-Moon part: “Facing west, a somnolent Moon reflects tranquillity from a joyous Sun smiling to the east.”

Close up of the Sun with its smiling face on the Peace Fountain.

Why the two different moods? The sculpture depicts the Moon setting in the west after a full night of illuminating Earth (tiring work, for sure), while the Sun, having rested below the horizon for the entire night, is shown rising refreshed and ready for the day.

In aligning the Sun-Moon faces due east and west (as advertised on the plaque), the sculptor was not fooled by the orientation of Manhattan’s rectangular street grid, which is rotated a full 30° from the grid defined by geographic north.